Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Akshardham: India's Religious Disneyland

Jessica arrives today from the Catholic orphanage where she is working. We traveled before to Agra together, but now I have more of a chance to get to know her. She's been working in the rural areas of Faridabad, where she tells me some nightmare stories of the Father priest at the school and how he doesn't let her do certain stuff, like go to the market, and how he treats his servants like slaves. She's had a much different experience than me....
Me, Annie and Jess go to the lepresy colony all together and it was much better having 3 volunteers there. I made flashcards, the night before, that have verb tenses on them, past/present/future, with easy words, like "write" and "going". It's hard a lot of the time to get my girls to understand to READ the words aloud and to write their OWN sentences - they just copy everything I do. Bit frustrating.
It is a long day of teaching but we finish, as usual, with the HOKEY POKEY!! The little kids join in our circle and are laughing laughing laughing and probably making fun of me in Hindi :)
Afterwards, the three of us walk to the market so Jess can take a look at fabrics. The market is always filled with beeping cars, stray dogs, fruit vendors with flies buzzzzzing around the ripening fruit, and LOADS of people. Always. We look at all these fabrics and then drop them off at the tailor.
Back at home, we hang out, eat dinner and start drinking Indian beer. When Annie and I are up on the roof, a bat flies down SO low and almost hits us! We nearly scream our heads off...She tells me about the legit vampire bats in Thailand..eeek! Annie and Jess are really fun to talk with, about old stuff back at home. I'm liking Jess more and more and realize how quickly I judged her during our first day in Agra. Annie ends up going to bed early but it is nice to see a new, fun side to her and for her to come out of her shell a little more before she leaves us tomorrow. So Bandhu, Jess and I stay up for hours, the drinks flowing and the Indian cigarettes burning. We talk (again) about Global Crossroad blah blah blah so I try to change the subject to things like marriage and inevitably- divorce. Bandhu explains it's very uncommon and not socially accepted, at all, to be divorced here, so most people just stay miserable in their marriages. That night we all end of crashing on top of the king size bed!

Annie, Jess and I split a cab to New Delhi for under 600 rupees. At one traffic light, a beggar comes to our window, his arm amputated with the bone still sticking out. God, I'm shivering just thinking about it. Poor guy- but seriously, going around sticking your arm in people's windows for money?! We drop Annie off at her 5-star Taj Mahal hotel...She needs a night of "rest" before flying back to Chicago. Jess and I are off to AKSHARDHAM!!! India's religious Disney World!!! The place is an absolute madddhouse - busier than Disney World during winter vacation, I promise you. You have to check your camera/purse/mobile. I will give it credit because even though it looks really crazy, it's still slightly more organized than the rest of India. On the loudspeaker is "Welcome to Akshardham...." Actually, the whole place reminds me of that scene in Shrek 1 with the castle town set up like an amusement park...You can see the tops of the gorgeous Hindu temple inside, completed in 2005! Once we were searched for any weapons..or cameras, we enter the "Cultural Complex" built for the Yogi Bhagwan Swamijiranayaklakaklavner...actually, I forget the name but for a boy, who at the age of 11, left home and traveled up to the Himalaya, where he became englightened and detached spiritually from this world. He then traveled up and down the entire coast of India over 7 years, guiding, speaking and healing others. "Swaminarayan Akshardham means the eternal abode of Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830) - a torchbearer of Indian culture and spirituality." The complex is on the river Yamuna outside of New Delhi. "It showcases India's glorious traditions and art, architecture, wisdom and spirituality." It's ironic however that despite whom the complex honors for his divinity and for the peace/love/prayers that the temple advertises - I FEEL NONE OF IT! I have never been pushed around so much, cut in line and STARED AT so much in my entire life! The whole place was very unholy. Honestly, they try to go big with it's construction to build a place big enough to hold thousands, but the problem is all the crowds and the difficulties that come with crowds.
Jess and I first walk through the Ten Gates, which are supposed to give you a sense of balance, harmony and purity - I just feel the old lady behind me pushing me along. Great.
I have to say though that the colors were amazing. It was definitely a place where women wear their Sunday best- their brightest, cleanest, sparkliest sari. The colors were breathtaking - esp when you're standing up and the temple and looking down and just see an array of rainbow colors. We bought our exhibition tickets for a mere 125 rupees and walked all through the long corridors decorated with intricate designs and archways. Down below is the world's largest step-well with a huge gold statue of the boy-child Bhagwan. All along the temple walls are these carvings of elephants and the lessons Bhagwan teaches us from these animals.
Getting up to the temple is a bit of an ordeal- we have to leave our shoes at the "Boot House" and step on these wet, slimy, sweaty mats where hundreds of dirty feet have already stepped today. Ew. The steps are white marble but still wicked hot from burning in the sun all day. The outside walls are carved out people and animals. The inside of the temple is massive, with carvings on every single last square inch of that place. There is a huge statue of Bhagwan in the lotus position, with worshipper gold statues. There are idols of Hinduism's favorite gods and big paintings with stories of the enlightened boy-child. Afterwards, we meet a nice British man living in Oregon who took us out of the 2-hr wait line into Theatre 2 for a film: it re-enacts the life of Bhagwan for understanding much better his lifeworks and his universal teachings.

After our movie, we go right into the next theatre (well not right into, we got pushed around a bit and cut and stared at) for a boat ride through India's deeply rich culture, religions and discoveries. Apparently India is the birthplace of democracy, the abacus AND the zero...hmmm...I think they're full of themselves... !
So by the end of the day, I am quite sick of the crowds, the pushing and SO sick of the staring...
Our driver is so relieved to see us after we get sucked into DisIndiaLand for over 5 hours.
He drives us to the Taj Mahal hotel, where we have a nice, relaxing swim with Annie- just what we need. Once we make it allll the way back to Faridabad, we were exhausted. What I love though is how Jess and I have spent the whole day together and always have something to talk about and relate to- I love people who I can chat with, nonstop conversation. We are both very similar in our fascination with India, yoga, Hinduism and the culture. I think us both growing up in sheltered communities like Nebraska and Massachusetts, and reading about India or learning yoga really shaped our similar intrigues with the civilization...
Anyway, we stay up late again with Bandhu talking, watching TV and all crash in the same room.

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